How Jamaican dad supports gay son’s activism

Tribute to My Supportive Dad

George
George “Tommy” Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

As a Jamaican father who raised his three sons in a very fundamentalist Christian church, my dad, George (or “Tommy”) was not exactly thrilled when I came out, or when my same-gender marriage made front-page news in our small country.

He was particularly upset when, as he predicted, work colleagues and members of the public made life for him and my mom very difficult through their homophobic rants. My parents have also had to endure virulent gay-bashing sermons while sitting in the pews of the church to which they have devoted so much of their lives. The pastor whom they view as a family friend has not spared them his anti-LGBTI wrath, even though he knows how distressing his diatribes must be for my mom and dad.

Despite these challenges, my father has become one of my strongest, though usually silent, allies, even risking alienation from some of his own family. His tremendous support was evident on Thursday, Aug. 3, when he unhesitatingly volunteered for and endured a 6-hour return drive in rainy weather over treacherous pothole-riddled roads into the mountains of Jamaica for a public screening of “The Abominable Crime” film. Dad has seen this film multiple times, which features some of my work challenging homophobia and HIV in Jamaica. But he patiently sits through each screening as if it were his first.

Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of International Planned Parenthood Federation)
Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of International Planned Parenthood Federation)

On Thursday we left home at 1:30 p.m. and returned after midnight. However, my father did not complain once! And on the way, we had a good long chat about many things, including life, relationships, religion and the meaning of authenticity. I discovered that he was raised an Anglican and converted to Pentecostal a year before he married my mother (who was also raised Anglican).

At the time, the Anglican church was too conservative for many young Jamaicans. However, it is safe to say that, in Jamaica today, the Anglican church has some of the most progressive approaches to inclusion, thanks to the leadership of persons such as the Rev. Father Sean Major-Campbell. Father Sean publicly washed the feet of lesbians in commemoration of World Human Rights Day 2014. The irony was not lost on my father and me that is this sort of progressive religious practice that caused me to recently convert to Anglican and my husband Tom, to become a transfer clergy candidate for the Anglican priesthood.

This recent trip together with my father reminded me of the many times in my youth that I traveled with him to present Christian-themed films to small communities in the Jamaican countryside. This was part of his missionary work with his church, spreading the gospel. Now he journeys with me to spread a message of inclusion for all Jamaicans.

With the help of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, J-FLAG and other partners, we plan to show the film to many small towns in Jamaica. This is part of a national dialogue series under the theme “Hey, Jamaica, Have Your Say! Is Jamaica Anti-Gay?”

So far we have shown the award-winning documentary in the major urban centres of Kingston, Montego Bay, and Mandeville and we plan to reach other small communities in the near future.

My father constantly surprises me with how much he loves all his three boys. He is not the most physically demonstrative parent, but he has always been there when we needed him most. Thanks, Dad. I am blessed to have you.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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